Unlocking Legacy – Recent Tournament Analysis

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Monday, July 28th – Christopher Coppola analyzes the Top 8 results of fourteen large tournaments and discusses the current state of the format.

I. The Third Age

Legacy has experienced unprecedented development in the last several months. This is partially due to an unusually high number of useful cards being printed over the last year. However, I believe the more significant factor in the format’s development is the innovation and accumulated experience of many players applying their designs to beat Threshold.

The combination of viable new cards and a new design target has transformed Legacy into a much more open format. At the moment there is no clear leader, since Threshold no longer dominates but is still a strong choice, as is evident by recent tournament results.

II. Tournament Results

There have been many large tournaments in the last month. I chose to analyze the following fourteen tournaments from the previous thirty-day period:

Milan, 7/12, 86 players
Badalona 7/12, 86 players
Badalona 6/21, 76 players
Akihabara 6/22, 70 players
Syracuse 7/20, 68 players
Dulmen 7/20, 67 players
Mol 7/20, 58 players
Piacenza 7/20, 57 players
Iserlohn 7/20, 56 players
Hadley 6/29, 49 players
Vancouver 6/29, 47 players
Asti 7/06, 43 players
Rostock 7/06, 42 players
Roncade 7/20, 41 players

I examined the Top 8 from each of these tournaments and counted the results for each deck with three or more finishes. Here are the results:

Threshold (2,3,4,5,5,5,5,5,6,7,7,7,8,8)
Aggro-Loam (1,1,1,2,2,3,3,6,6,8,8,8)
Survival (1,1,4,5,6,6,7,7,7,7,8)
Landstill (1,1,2,2,4,4,5,6,6,6)
Dreadnought (1,1,2,2,2,2,4,5)
Ichorid (1,3,3,4,4,6,7,8)
Goblins (2,4,6,6,8)
Rock (2,6,8,8,8)
Mono-Blue Control (1,2,3,5)
Aluren (3,4,7)
Painter (2,3,5)

Threshold is still a popular deck at tournaments, and is played more than any other deck overall. However, it is not making Top 8 substantially more than other decks, all of which are played significantly less. In fact, it has not won any of these tournaments, instead losing in Top 8 to Aggro-Loam, Ichorid, or Landstill. Threshold is effectively handled by these decks, and its popularity will continue to decrease as its metagamed against, until other decks become major design targets.

In my opinion, the most successful deck currently is Aggro-Loam, since it has very good matchups against the Blue-based Control and Aggro-Control decks, and is capable of handling other archetypes well with customization and the use of Burning Wish. Aggro-Loam also places a high number of decks in the Top 8 compared to total played. Aggro-Loam evades Counterbalance with many three-mana spells, which are themselves very powerful – Countryside Crusher and Terravore can get bigger than Tarmogoyf quickly. The Life from the Loam engine also allows the deck to effectively Wasteland-lock opponents, draw many extra cards, and combo out the opponent with Seismic Assault. This versatile and powerful deck is perhaps the newest and most innovative member of Legacy’s Tier 1 decks. Aggro-Loam’s biggest weakness is Combo, which may become more prevalent once Threshold’s numbers decline.

Another interesting trend is the success of Dreadnought decks. These decks are based around the combination of Phyrexian Dreadnought and Stifle (or Trickbind), which creates a 12/12 trampler for the cost of two mana and two cards. One way to make Stifle more relevant as disruption is to play Standstill, a tactic taken from Landstill decks, but one which makes this deck more dangerous in the early game. This deck can run Trinket Mage to tutor for the 12/12 trampler, which is almost always the biggest creature on the board. Dreadnought decks may also play Counterbalance, allowing them to fight Control and Aggro-Control decks as effectively as they fight Aggro with Phyrexian Dreadnought. The multiple engines in this deck work well enough together to earn this deck two wins and four second place finishes in the past month.

Survival and Landstill, two decks which were popular at the very beginning of the format, are becoming so again. Both of these decks found very strong designs that contributed to their success, and in turn the decline of Threshold. Both of these decks play a lot of mana sources, and have multiple ways of generating card advantage.

The most successful Landstill list runs four colors and plays Pernicious Deed and Stifle. This is a classic archetype, and arguably the purest Control deck in Legacy despite the inclusion of some cards which might seem out of place at first glance, such as Tarmogoyf. Tarmogoyf is so mana efficient as a creature that it is well worth playing, even though the deck also plays Pernicious Deed. Another very useful card is Crucible of Worlds, which combined with Wasteland and Mishra’s Factory can trade land drops every turn for the opponent’s mana sources and creatures. Landstill is a slow deck, but it has powerful card advantage engines, giving it an advantage over many Aggro-Control decks, but putting it at a disadvantage against fast Aggro decks with mana denial, and some Combo decks.

Currently the best Survival list is three colors, and plays Thoughtseize, Shriekmaw, Magus of the Moon, and Eternal Witness in multiples. This deck has substantial hand disruption which allows it to slow down the opponent, set up the Survival engine, and begin tutoring for answers. Burning Wish fits in with this strategy as well, protecting Survival and answering quicker threats. Squee, Genesis, and Eternal Witness together can recur any card in the deck, as long as it has enough mana. Survival is similar to Landstill in that it has a very strong late game, but is weaker against fast Combo decks.

Much has already been written about Ichorid, but this deck continues to succeed as more players actually build the deck and take it to tournaments. Winning the game on turn 2, or even turn 1, is possible with this deck, which just as a reminder is basically immune to all forms of permission and discard. Ichorid has very good matchups against Threshold, Landstill, and Dreadnought decks, and is only really weakened when there is a significant amount of hate for the deck. Given the popularity of Blue-based decks with Control elements, I expect Ichorid to continue to increase in popularity.

Goblins is currently in a favorable position. Decks against which it has good matchups are becoming popular due to their ability to beat Threshold. Soon, these decks will comprise much larger fractions of tournaments, and Goblins will be able to take advantage of these matchups with the new set of tools printed in the last block. It is still moderately played even in this environment, so if the format does move more towards Landstill and Ichorid, Goblins will surely increase in popularity.

The rest of the decks that showed up on this analysis are less significant. The decks I am calling “Rock” play a variety of cards, and this archetype might more accurately be called non-Blue Control, since the decks play Pernicious Deed, additional removal, and hand disruption. This archetype has been around in Legacy for some time, but it’s strength against Threshold has been one of its only advantages, so it has never gained substantial popularity. There were four Mono-Blue Control decks, which is an interesting occurrence, but is likely related to the lingering popularity of Threshold and Aggro-Control decks in general. Painter and Aluren both placed in Top 8s three times, which I find much more significant due to the low numbers of people playing either of these decks. Painter in particular is just now seeing significant play after some successful recent finishes.

Dreadnought, Ichorid, Aggro-Loam, and Painter are all recent additions to popular Legacy. Landstill, Survival, and Goblins are older decks, but they have been redeveloped and improved relatively recently. These changes are still affecting Legacy, and are likely to open up the format even more.

III. More Innovations

In addition to the innovations I already discussed In established decks, there has been a lot of experimentation with new ideas, and many of these decks have made it to the Top 8 of their tournaments. Here are a few of the interesting decks from the last month of data:

“Trinketstalker,” Andrea Giarola
4th at Piacenza (57 players)

4 Tombstalker
3 Trinket Mage
4 Brainstorm
2 Enlightened Tutor
4 Swords to Plowshares
3 Duress
4 Hymn to Tourach
4 Thoughtseize
1 Moat
1 Bottled Cloister
1 Cursed Scroll
3 Engineered Explosives
1 Pithing Needle
1 Sensei’s Divining Top
1 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Academy Ruins
1 Ancient Den
3 Bloodstained Mire
4 Flooded Strand
1 Island
1 Plains
4 Polluted Delta
2 Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrubland[/author]
3 Swamp
1 Tundra
2 Underground Sea

2 Exalted Angel
2 Blue Elemental Blast
1 Gaea’s Blessing
2 Back to Basics
1 Circle of Protection: Green
1 Circle of Protection: Red
4 Leyline of the Void
2 Seal of Cleansing

This deck is built around Trinket Mage and Enlightened Tutor, which can get answer s to many different strategies. Thoughtseize, Hymn to Tourach, and Duress allow the deck to control the early game, and Engineered Explosives functions as another general answer. Naturally the deck runs Tombstalker, which flies over the Moat and will usually cost BB.

“Burning Passage,” Hermann Fehlauer
3rd at Dulmen (67 Players)

3 Tidespout Tyrant
4 Brainstorm
2 Cryptic Command
2 Cunning Wish
4 Fire / Ice
4 Force of Will
3 Misdirection
4 Spell Snare
4 Burning Wish
3 Guided Passage
4 Ponder
3 Show and Tell
2 Flooded Strand
6 Island
4 Polluted Delta
4 Tropical Island
4 Volcanic Island

1 Blue Elemental Blast
1 Cryptic Command
1 Guttural Response
1 Krosan Grip
1 Misdirection
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Research / Development
1 Call of the Herd
1 Firespout
1 Guided Passage
1 Primal Command
1 Pyroclasm
1 Recoup
1 Regrowth
1 Show and Tell

This deck is built around a card which may have been played for the first time in Legacy, Guided Passage. The card costs URG and gets Tidespout Tyrant, a land, and another spell out of the deck. The deck runs three of these and four Burning Wishes to get the fourth copy (or the Show and Tell needed to put the Tidespout Tyrant into play), in addition to a lot of other cantrips that find the necessary combo pieces. Once in play, Tidespout Tyrant turns all the draw into bounce spells, and the 5/5 flyer is protected by Force of Will, Spell Snare, Misdirection, and Cryptic Command.

“Tombstone,” Bob Kochis
7th at Hadley (49 Players)

4 Birds of Paradise
3 Doran, the Siege Tower
4 Eternal Witness
3 Tarmogoyf
2 Tombstalker
3 Krosan Grip
2 Snuff Out
4 Swords to Plowshares
3 Harmonize
2 Engineered Plague
3 Pernicious Deed
3 Sensei’s Divining Top
4 Bayou
2 Bloodstained Mire
2 Forest
2 Plains
1 Polluted Delta
1 Savannah
2 Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrubland[/author]
2 Swamp
1 Volrath’s Stronghold
4 Windswept Heath
3 Liliana Vess

3 Extirpate
1 Krosan Grip
4 Orim’s Chant
1 Snuff Out
3 Engineered Plague
3 Pithing Needle

Built around Doran, the Siege Tower (a 5/5 for three mana), this deck plays strong removal and draw elements without Blue. Harmonize, Krosan Grip, and Pernicious Deed are heavy Control cards, as is Liliana Vess, which gives the deck even more draw ability and works very well with Sensei’s Divining Top.

“Mono-Blue Control,” Fahed Saleh
1st at Mol (58 players)

2 Morphling
3 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner
4 Sower of Temptation
4 Counterspell
2 Echoing Truth
4 Fact or Fiction
2 Forbid
4 Force Spike
4 Force of Will
2 Spell Snare
3 Back to Basics
2 Powder Keg
2 Vedalken Shackles
22 Island

2 Spell Snare
4 Stifle
3 Declaration of Naught
3 Pithing Needle
3 Tormod’s Crypt

This version of Mono-Blue takes advantage of Sower of Temptation, Vedalken Shackles, and Kira, Great Glass-Spinner, which allow the deck to steal opponent’s creatures and simultaneously protect them from removal. I consider Force Spike an essential card for this archetype and it clearly succeeded, as this deck won the Mol tournament against a Top 8 of five Aggro decks.

IV. Future Design

It is difficult to predict what changes will occur in the near future of Legacy besides a continued gradual decline of Threshold decks. However, all of this diversity and innovation means that while metagaming remains very important, hate decks are less and less effective. Design should focus on being proactive and on having answers for virtually every strategy, as all archetypes are currently represented in worldwide Top 8s.

Christopher Coppola